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March 10, 2023

Signs & Symptoms of High-Functioning Alcoholism

Untreated alcoholism can rob a person of the ability to moderate their behaviors. But some people who struggle with an addiction to alcohol retain a modicum of control and stability. People who do this are often said to have high-functioning alcoholism.

The Difference Between Alcoholism & High-Functioning Alcoholism

To determine if someone meets the criteria for alcoholism or another form of addiction, most clinicians in the United States refer to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-5). This reference book includes the following criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder (which is the clinical term for alcoholism):

  • Having powerful cravings for alcohol
  • Spending significant amounts of time acquiring and using alcohol, as well as recovering from the effects of alcohol abuse
  • Drinking more (or more often) than originally intended
  • Failing to meet personal, academic, or occupational responsibilities due to ongoing alcohol use
  • No longer participating in hobbies, social activities, or recreational pursuits because of continued alcohol use
  • Using alcohol in ways or circumstances that are clearly hazardous, such as mixing alcohol with prescription pills or other drugs
  • Continuing to drink even after incurring physical and/or psychological damage that can be attributed to prior alcohol abuse
  • Continuing to drink even after prior alcohol use has disrupted relationships with friends, family members, colleagues, and romantic partners
  • Developing tolerance, or needing to consume greater amounts of alcohol to achieve the intoxicating effects that previously occurred after just a few drinks
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, which can include both physical and psychological distress, when unable to drink or after abruptly attempting to stop drinking 
  • Wanting to either quit drinking or reduce the amount and frequency of one’s alcohol use, trying to accomplish these goals, but being unable to do so

According to the DSM-5, a person only needs to meet two of the criteria listed above to be diagnosed with an addiction to alcohol

People who meet fewer than five of these criteria are often described as having mild or moderate alcohol use disorder. Depending on which criteria a person meets, and how severely they are affected, individuals who have mild or moderate alcohol use disorder may also be referred to as having high-functioning alcoholism.

The term high-functioning alcoholism is not included as either a diagnosis or a qualifier in the DSM-5, but it is still often used by clinicians, addiction counselors, and other experts to provide a general description of how a person has been impacted by compulsive alcohol abuse.

Signs & Symptoms of High-Functioning Alcoholism

A person who has high-functioning alcoholism may only have a few symptoms. Also, they may go to great lengths to hide these symptoms from friends, family members, and colleagues. This means that it can be extremely difficult to tell if someone in your life has this form of addiction.

If you suspect that someone you know may have developed high-functioning alcoholism, you may want to keep an eye out for the following signs and symptoms:

  • They claim that they think more clearly and function better when they’ve had a few drinks.
  • They often drink at home before they go out.
  • They have a habit of stopping at a bar or liquor store on the way home from work just about every day.
  • They don’t seem to be able to have fun without drinking.
  • You have noticed sudden, significant changes in their mindset, motivation, and activity level at apparently random times throughout the day.
  • You have noticed distinct differences in their personality depending on if they have or have not been drinking. 
  • They joke or brag about how much they drink.
  • They use alcohol to reward themselves for successes.
  • You have smelled alcohol on their breath early in the day, while they are at work, or at other times when they should not have been drinking.

Someone who exhibits these types of signs and symptoms may be in crisis and should seek professional care. Thankfully, high-functioning alcoholism is a treatable condition. In many cases, outpatient treatment can be the start of the path toward an alcohol-free future.

Outpatient Treatment for High-Functioning Alcoholism

Inner Voyage Recovery Center offers three levels of outpatient care for individuals who have been living with high-functioning alcoholism. Depending on the nature and severity of your struggles with alcohol abuse, you may benefit from receiving services at one or more of the following levels:

  • Partial hospitalization program (PHP)
  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP)
  • Outpatient rehab

Within these levels of care, you may participate in the following types of therapies and services:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family programming
  • Adventure therapy
  • Trauma therapy

Find Treatment for Alcoholism in Atlanta, GA

Inner Voyage Recovery Center is a trusted source of personalized outpatient treatment for adults who have developed high-functioning alcoholism and other forms of addiction. When you choose to begin your recovery journey at our treatment center near Atlanta, Georgia, you can receive quality care from a team of skilled and compassionate professionals. 

With our help, you can overcome the constraints of high-functioning alcoholism, regain control of your behavior, and start living a much healthier and more authentic life. To learn more about our programs and services, or to schedule a free assessment, please either visit our admissions page or call us today.

If you or someone you know needs any of our services

Please call us at 470-863-8259

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Author

  • Emily Rowe, LMSW

    Emily Rowe is the Clinical Director at Inner Voyage Recovery Center. She is a Licensed Master of Social Work with 8 years of experience in clinical settings covering one on one sessions, family sessions, group sessions, crisis interventions and suicidal prevention. Recognized by leadership and colleagues as forward thinking, creative, empathetic, active listener and effective.

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